Muslim human rights activist in need of kidney finds help from Jewish community

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Canadian activist in need of kidney
A well-known Pakistani-Canadian activist is speaking publicly about her personal journey to find a kidney. As Caryn Lieberman reports, an entire community is stepping in to help – Apr 26, 2024

Since Oct. 7, Raheel Raza has become even more outspoken against a global rise in antisemitism.

“When I see what’s happening on our streets and I look at the future of my children and grandchildren, I believe that I have to keep on doing what I’m doing,” said Raza, an anti-racism activist and interfaith discussion leader, the author of Their Jihad, Not My Jihad: A Muslim Canadian Woman Speaks Out and the president of the Council of Muslims Facing Tomorrow.

“And this is an opportunity for me. Yes, I have some restrictions, but I don’t allow them to hold me back. They are a very small drop in the ocean of the work that has to be done.”

Those restrictions are her weekly visits to hospital to receive dialysis.

Raza is in kidney failure.

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“It was very hard at first. It was a shock. Just absorbing what it means and what it means for the future. My family was more in shock than I was. Actually, I decided very early that I have two options: either I can moan about it and be depressed, or I can just embrace this health and learn to live with it,” she recalled.

For 20 years, Raza had been living with diabetes. During the pandemic, she fell sick with COVID-19 and soon after was diagnosed with renal failure.

“The same month, all of a sudden, right out of nowhere … I went to see a nephrologist. He said, ‘Your kidneys are failing,'” she said.

Dr. Joseph Kim, director of the kidney transplant program at University Health Network in Toronto, said that “once kidneys start to fail, one needs to undergo some form of replacement treatment.”

“The two major forms are dialysis, where there’s either a machine or fluid that’s put into your abdomen to try to replace some of that function. But the superior treatment and the current standard for those who are eligible to receive one is a transplant,” Kim said.

Raza is on a waiting list.

“The first people who volunteered were my husband and my two sons, but they unfortunately are not compatible. I also had two wonderful friends, activists who I worked with, who volunteered as well, and they had their tests done. But in the end, they were also found to be incompatible,” she said.

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A living kidney donation comes most often from a family member, but it can also come from a stranger.

“I personally feel it’s one of the greatest gifts one can give back to one’s fellow human being and society as a whole,” Kim said.

According to the Kidney Foundation, a good living donor candidate is someone who is healthy, well-informed and makes a voluntary decision to donate one of their kidneys. Living donors must be in good health with no evidence of significant high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, kidney disease, heart disease or hepatitis.

When members of the Jewish community learned Raza was in need of a kidney, they stepped up to help.

“She’s been helping the Jewish community and the Muslim community with the Council of Muslims against antisemitism and it’s our turn to help her and to bring awareness to renal disease. She’s been going through dialysis for three years, and we need to save her life. She’s too important,” Dorit Smali said.

She contacted Renewal Canada, an organization that helps match people with kidney failure with donors to save their lives, to facilitate a swab event May 8 for Raza. It will be held at Prosserman Jewish Community Centre and is being promoted by Secure Canada, an organization founded by victims of 9/11 committed to combatting terrorism and extremism.

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“Raheel is an incredible, powerful voice. She’s an educator. She’s a mother and a grandmother, and the type of effect that she has on all of us to speak from a place of love is so important. United, Muslims and Jews, Christians, we can all win. This is really about gathering and supporting one another,” Smali said.

Raza called the event “absolutely amazing,” “so heartwarming and so inspiring.”

“I tell everyone, this is my community. You know, they have reached out to me. They have embraced me. They care for me. They respect me. So why wouldn’t I do the work that I continue to do?” Raza said.

Ontario’s Trillium Gift of Life network says the estimated wait time to get a donated kidney in Ontario is two to five years. The group says more than 90 per cent of Ontarians are in favour of organ donation in general, but just one in three have registered their consent. That is easy to do: Just head to

“I am so humbled and so grateful…. When we reach out to others, it’s just organic that they will embrace you and reach out to you. The example of what the Jewish community is doing for me is a perfect example. They don’t look upon my religion, my faith, my nationality, my culture. They look upon me as a human being,” Raza said.

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Despite her condition, Raza has not shown any signs of slowing her activism down.

“One of our projects is to bring Jews and Muslims together to talk. We don’t have to agree, but let’s communicate. Let’s talk to each other. Let’s show respect,” she said. “I don’t think that we have the luxury of sleeping at night without asking ourselves, ‘Did I do something to make a difference today?’ And that’s what I do.

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